UPDATE: Island voters rally behind parks

Roused to action by February’s “wake-up call,” Bainbridge Park District supporters heading into Tuesday’s election took their message to the voters:

If you want island parks to stay open, vote for the levy.

Islanders responded at the polls, voting overwhelmingly to support district parks and programs going through 2004.

The $4.78 million maintenance and operations levy earned 70 percent support, in unofficial final results Friday afternoon. Returns showed 5,199 votes for, 2,215 against, in turnout that was actually lower than February.

“It’s a pretty good number,” said Dane Spencer, park board commissioner and member of the pro-levy campaign Partners for Parks.

“I was hoping it would be an overwhelming number,” Spencer said. “Maybe it’s because of the economy, and people are more careful about where they spend their money.”

The levy replaces the current M&O levy, and will be collected once in 2003 to fund park operations over a two-year period.

A similar levy narrowly missed the required 60 percent approval in February, leaving the prospect of park closures had Tuesday’s try failed.

But the levy’s success was apparently not the result of a higher turnout. Even with outstanding absentees, it appears that fewer votes were cast in this election than were cast in February. But so far, there are far fewer “no” votes.

County Auditor Karen Flynn said her office still has some several thousand absentee ballots to count. Perhaps 15 percent of those ballots were from Bainbridge.

Flynn projected countywide turnout at 42 percent, down from the 45 percent expected.

In the only significant primary race, Democrat Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo bested Bremerton’s Terry Ducheane for a chance to challenge incumbent Beverly Woods in this fall’s District 23, Position 2 House race.

Also, Barbara Stephenson held a narrow edge over Paulette Alvarado for the Kitsap County treasurer post, with neither earning 50 percent of the vote.

While the race for county treasurer was too close to call, the remaining votes were unlikely to change the outcome of the Bainbridge park levy.

Failure last February was blamed in part on the absence of a promotional campaign. This time, a pro-levy group ran a series of newspaper advertisements, while youths and senior citizens worked streetcorners Tuesday afternoon, urging commuters to vote after they returned on the ferry.

“Maybe February’s election woke us up to the need to do a better job communicating our message to the public,” said Ken DeWitt, park board chairman. “We need to take this seriously that when we have a levy, we need to get the message out about why we have levy and why we need it.”

Spencer suggested that the pro-parks campaign may become permanent.

“I think our goal is to be visible every year, even on off-elections years,” he said. “We’re trying to find a group of people to keep this going.”

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